Preventing tooth erosion during pregnancy and in babies and toddlers
Tooth erosion is the process by which acids attack and dissolve teeth. Research has shown the prevalence of dental erosion is increasing, and likewise dentists are reporting a significant increase in cases of tooth erosion compared to five years ago. Hence, the ADA's focus for Dental Health Week is to highlight the dangers of erosion with an awareness campaign that aims to educate Australians and prevent the effects of this irreversible condition.
Tooth erosion occurs due to a number of factors, with diet being one of the major contributors. Soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices all have high acid levels, which contribute to erosion. Vomiting and reflux are also causes of increased tooth exposure to acids, and are as such a common cause of tooth erosion.
Tooth Erosion and Pregnant Women
As a result of this, pregnant women who experience morning sickness and/or reflux are at a greater risk of dental erosion due to the regular exposure of the teeth to stomach acids. If you are pregnant and experiencing these conditions, there are a number of easy habits to prevent damage to your teeth. These include:
- Don't brush your teeth for at least one hour after sickness and/or reflux
- Rinse your mouth with water, preferably fluoridated tap water, which will assist in removing acids
- Chewing sugar free gum can stimulate saliva flow and rinse acids away
- You can also lightly smear fluoride toothpaste on your teeth or rinse with an alcohol free fluoride mouthwash, which will help to provide additional protection against the erosive effects of vomiting and reflux
While some doctors encourage pregnant women to drink fizzy lemon drinks to help calm morning sickness, try to avoid the erosive citrus of the lemon by substituting this beverage with sparkling mineral water or rinse afterwards with water to return the mouth to a neutral pH faster. These alternatives should have the same stomach settling effect.
Snacking throughout the day can also help to control morning sickness. Chose snacks that provide a low acid energy boost, such as dry biscuits and crackers, and rinse with water after snacking to reduce the effect on teeth. There are low kilojoule, non acidic alternatives available from your pharmacy such as lozenges containing xylitol. See your dentist for more information on foods with a lower acidity.
Some women find that brushing their teeth while pregnant encourages vomiting, however, by not brushing regularly you can put yourself at risk of tooth erosion. To avoid the retching feeling, try using a brush with a small head, like the kind you would buy for your toddler. It can also help to try to practice relaxation while brushing by closing your eyes, listening to music and taking your time.
Because minimising exposure of your teeth to acids is the best way to minimise tooth erosion, and given the higher level of stomach and other acids hitting your teeth during pregnancy, try to avoid eating acidic foods such as citrus fruits and drinking acidic beverages like soft drink and fruit juice during this time.
During your pregnancy, it is important to maintain dental visits and to inform your dentist of your pregnancy as this may impact on the type of care needed to maintain good oral health.
Speak to your dentist about other products available to protect your teeth during pregnancy.
Tooth erosion: babies and toddlers:
Did you know that babies begin to develop their teeth and bones in the fourth month of pregnancy? Healthy nutrition for the mother during pregnancy will help the teeth and bones of the baby develop optimally.
Research indicates that Australian children are showing increased rates of tooth erosion, so preventing or at least minimising the impact of tooth erosion is paramount to avoiding a lifetime of treatment and discomfort, and must start from an early age.
The following tips can help to avoid and minimise erosion in your baby's teeth:
- Encourage your baby to drink fluoridated tap water rather than acidic fruit juices, which can cause dental erosion
- If consuming acidic drinks, limit them to mealtimes and finish the meal with water.
- If your baby does drink juice, as with any other beverages, encourage the use of an age appropriate sipper cup with a straw to minimise the acid exposure to teeth
- Serve acidic drinks like fruit juice and cordial chilled, as cooler temperatures have been shown to be less likely to cause tooth erosion
- If your baby consumes acidic foods and drinks, encourage them to have a drink of water afterwards, which will help to rinse their mouth and assist with the removal of remaining acids
- Eating cheese or drinking milk following acidic food or beverages can help to neutralise the acids and protect your baby's teeth.
Above all, it is important for all people, including babies, to follow these basic principles in order to minimise or prevent tooth erosion:
- Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods, especially those rich in calcium and low in acids and sugars
- Enjoy healthy snacks, but give your teeth a break
- Drink plenty of fluoridated tap water with and between meals
- Good dental care is not pre-wired in your children, so be sure to teach your kids positive teeth habits from an early age
- Brush gently and thoroughly with a smear of fluoride toothpaste with a low concentration for children under 6 years) and a soft, compact head toothbrush
- Clean your teeth twice a day, after breakfast and just before bed
- Have regular dental check-ups - don't wait for a problem to occur
- Dental check-ups start with your baby’s first birthday or within 6 months of the appearance of the first tooth
- Remember, good general health begins with good oral health